While attending BUKU Music + Art Project in New Orleans two weekends prior, Dutch artist Sander van Dijck (aka San Holo) was able to take a few moments after his incredible set to sit down with us in the media lounge for a quick interview.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. How do you like New Orleans?
Nola, right? It took me a while to figure out last year when I was first here what “Nola” meant. But yeah I really like it here. I think the only thing I had to get used to, that I dislike a little bit, is the humidity. It’s tiring, but the crowd is amazing, the people are amazing, everyone is really friendly and into the music; into lots of music, very open minded and just awesome.
So you’re a Dutch artist and you were born in the Netherlands. What was the music scene like in your hometown when you were growing up?
I want to first clarify one thing, because most Americans, and I’m not judging you, but do you know what Dutch means? The Netherlands is the country, and the language we speak is Dutch. If you’re born in Holland, you’re Dutch. Many people confuse it with Germany, like deutsch. Oh okay so my hometown, there was no music scene. In Zitermire, the city I live in, there’s a blues festival, lots of blues, not really a young crowd. Most young people are in Amsterdam and the Hague, but in my hometown generally speaking, my country Holland is not, the music I am making is not popular there yet. Holland is really big into big room, Martin Garrix and stuff, but all it’s all been shifting now since Martin Garrix is also making this kind of music right now, so they have to find something new again. So yeah, it’s getting there for sure, but it’s nowhere near America in terms of bass music.
So you’ve been playing in bands and making music since you were in high school. Do you ever still get stage fright?
Yeah. Yeah, yesterday for example I was really nervous for some reason, I don’t know why it just happens sometimes. I feel like festival shows are less scary for me because it’s a festival and everyone is already there anyway, but if it’s a show you do in a venue, a hard ticket show, it’s a little bit more scary because you feel like it’s all about you. So yeah, I do still get a little bit nervous.
What’s your creative process like in the studio? Does the music just come to you or is it a lot of trial and error experimentation?
First, like three years ago, I was all about experimentation and trial and error for sure, but now I’m getting more of a sense of what I really want, like I start working with a fixed idea in my head. So yeah, exactly that.
Do you have a favorite place in the world, or a favorite festival, that you’ve played at?
I just really like California for some reason. My tour manager loves and hates it, he got used to it. You have to have your filter on for people because people are really…L.A., but California in general, I really like California. I love the sun, the weather, the vibe, the palm trees. I love palm trees.
Are there any artists you are just dying to collaborate with?
Right now I’m really focusing on original materials. I’ve been doing some collaborations with other producers and it was great, but I’m really focusing on my own material right now. But of course, you know if Kanye West wants me to make some beats then I’m here, I’m down.
So what goes into founding a label like bitbird?
Oh way more than you think. bitbird started as a promotional platform for my friends. I had lots of friends that make great music and I wanted to support them, so we just made a SoundCloud page called bitbird and we uploaded their tracks to SoundCloud and there they got their exposure, but at a certain point we realized wait, why don’t we distribute to Spotify and iTunes and stuff, so we started a real label. Now, there’s people working for the company, there’s a marketing person and a label manager, which is crazy. It’s really an organization. It’s not just like “oh we’re going to upload a song,” it’s really a structured organization.
What’s been your biggest struggle to get to where you are today?
I think the industry. There was a huge culture shock because, I feel like in America there are kids that want to be a DJ, and lots of producers that I know had the dream of becoming a producer and a DJ, that’s what they wanted to do, but I never wanted to be a DJ I just wanted to make music. I started playing guitar when I was young and writing songs and it wasn’t until I did the remixes from like the classic be-bop songs that people started calling me for DJ sets. I was like “wait, I can’t even DJ,” so I had to rent this DJ set to practice before every show because I got nervous because I didn’t know how to work it. So yeah, the biggest shock is just that the way of thinking is very different than from where I’m from. I’m from the band world, and there is a lot that goes into the electronic world, so I’m just trying to combine it. Also, a very hard thing is to realize how much the music business is an industry. It’s really a business. I used to think, if you made a good song, you’d be on the radio, but there’s way more to it than that. There can be a really cool artist that makes an amazing track, but if it doesn’t have any story, it won’t be on the radio. If it was up to me, it would be on the radio. The industry created rules that it’s hard to break. I’m all about breaking the rules in music, but it’s hard to break the rules in the industry. It’s an adventure though.
What do you look to bring out in people, or change about the world, with your music?
You probably have songs that remind you of a specific time in your life. I think that’s really awesome, that people hear for example “We Rise” and they think of their holiday with their best friends or with their parents, or that moment when they found their loved ones. Just like smell, music has this distinct nostalgic effect, and I really like that most in music; nostalgia.
Okay, very last question. Tell us something special about your newest song, “Light.”
I can share a couple of things. I tried out about 20 vocalists on that, that’s pretty crazy I think. I ended up just asking a really close friend of mine to sing it and I loved that one the most, and we kept it. I wrote the song when I was, like I told you, sort of becoming aware of the music industry and the entire business of it and the rules, and that kind of made me feel lost about a lot of things like “what do I want to do” and, “is that really something I want to do or something I just thought I wanted?” I just needed to see the light about that, so I wrote that song. I wrote it in the airplane on the way to a show.
Meeting San was such a lovely experience, he and his manager could not have been warmer or more welcoming. To keep in touch with San Holo and his label bitbird you can follow his socials below. Experience his uplifting single “Light” here: